Cue the lights. Pick up the hairbrush. “Now, I’ve had the time of my life, and I’ve never felt like this before.” Yes, it’s the hit song from the best movie ever made, but it also speaks to the moments we cherish. In Dirty Dancing, Baby and Johnny thank each other for the best summer they’ve ever had, but you’ve likely experienced this feeling too. Perhaps you’ve found a moment where everything in the world is at peace, where you feel ultimate joy.
You might call these moments Z’man Simchateinu, the time of our happiness. It’s a time of rejoicing, usually with food, friends, and family. This term, z’man simchateinu, is designated for the three pilgrimage festivals: Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot. These are holidays that originated as agricultural celebrations.
Sukkot is specifically celebrated by engaging our senses with the smells and sights of the lulav andetrog, the tastes of harvest fruits and vegetables, and the feeling of the cool weather that hopefully starts to descend upon us. Sukkot is a special time in the year because it requires us to note just how very temporal life is. We set up a temporary structure, which can easily be taken down by us or by a strong wind, and we eat the end of the summer harvest, knowing that we’ll be waiting long months until strawberries, melons, and cherries are in season again. For this reason, our z’man simchateinu is also a moment when we recognize the ups and downs of our year. Like the breaking of a glass at a Jewish wedding, these eight days in our sukkah allow us to marvel at the gift of nature and seasons and at the same time see how lucky we are to have a permanent, sturdy structure to protect us during the rest of the year, not to mention different types of food to eat.
The book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) teaches in chapter 8, verse 15, “For the only good a man can have under the sun is to eat and drink and enjoy himself.” These words accurately describe our practice during z’man simchateinu, and remind us that there are many in our world who do not have this “good” life. During the days of the Temple, Israelites would bring their fruit offerings to share with God and the rest of the nation. They would come together with food, drink, and family in order to create the time of their lives in partnership with God.
Today, organizations like MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger work towards ensuring that a better life is possible for people around the world. As we celebrate together, I hope you will join your Levine family in making sure that during z’man simchateinu, everyone has the opportunity to have the time of their lives.
THIS TOO IS TORAH: While the chart-topping single “The Time of My Life” probably wasn’t directly inspired by the themes of Sukkot, another Billboard #1 hit was. “Turn! Turn! Turn,” written by Pete Seeger and popularized by The Byrds, takes its lyrics almost verbatim from the third chapter of Ecclesiastes.